IT is coincidental that one, 2019 has been designated as the ‘year of the pig’ in the Chinese calendar, and two, that our public life today is roiled by quarrels over the so-called pork barrel in the national budget.
Seriously, it is a mark of naiveté and amateurism of Philippine politics that Filipinos, politicians and citizens alike, remain fixated on the term “pork barrel” and everything unpleasant associated with it.
The world some time ago moved away from the term, and called it something else.
In the United States, where the practice and tradition of pork barrel spending was invented, it is significant that Americans and the media no longer use the term ‘pork’ or pork barrel.
Pork originally denoted funds from the federal and state treasury into which politicians dipped for funds for political projects. It became part of the lexicon when legislation was passed by Congress to provide “morsels for scores of congressmen” in the form of appropriations for dams and piers, highways and bridges.
The term went into disuse when it became known that the phrase is derived from the pre-Civil War practice of periodically distributing salt pork to the slaves from huge barrels. One journalist wrote: “The eagerness of the slaves would result in a rush upon the pork barrel, in which each would strive to grab as much as possible for himself.”
“Members of Congress in the stampede to get their local appropriations items into the omnibus pier and harbor bills behaved so much like Negro slaves rushing the pork barrel, that these bills were facetiously styled ’pork barrel’ bills.”
Today, American legislators consciously use the term “earmarks” in place of pork barrel.
According to Wikipedia, “an earmark is a provision inserted into a discretionary spending appropriations bill that directs funds to a specific recipient while circumventing the merit-based or competitive funds allocation process.”
In the US, the term “earmark” is used in relation with the congressional allocation process. Discretionary spending, which is set by the House and Senate appropriations committees and their various subcommittees, usually through appropriation acts, is an optional part of fiscal policy which differs from mandatory spending for entitlement programs in the federal budget.
According to the federal Office of Management and Budget (OMB) the term earmark referred to, “funds provided by the Congress for projects, programs, or grants where the purported congressional direction…circumvents otherwise applicable merit-based or competitive allocation processes, or specifies the location or recipient, or otherwise curtails the ability of the executive branch to manage its statutory and constitutional responsibilities pertaining to the funds allocation process.”
Pork barrel today is mainly remembered as a metaphor for the appropriation of government spending for localized projects secured solely or primarily to bring money to a representative’s district.
When the Philippine Supreme Court declared on Nov.18, 2013 that the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) was unconstitutional, it made no mention of the pork barrel.
The high court voted 14-0-1 against the PDAF, the multi-million-peso discretionary funds received by lawmakers every year.
Pork barrel was immortalized with the exposure of the P10-billion pork barrel scam, allegedly masterminded by businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles, and involving senators and congressmen, which resulted in several being charged and tried on graft charges.
Sen. Panfilo Lacson will lose his one and only song if our political vocabulary grows up and adapts to the modern world.
His loss notwithstanding, this will be better than having our legislators portrayed as no different from slaves.